Tom Wopat in: Empire Records

as: Joe Reaves

Way back in Nineteen-Hundred and Ninety-Five, a little flick called Empire Records was released to almost zero fanfare and minimal box office receipts. The coming-of-age comedy, set in and around an independent record store in Delaware, went over like a lead balloon in theaters. It wasn’t long, however, before it found success on home video and grew into a minor cult classic.

In reading the recently-compiled oral history of the film, it becomes apparent that Empire Records was severely mishandled by the studio behind it, which severely hampered the film’s chances for success . If there was somehow a mulligan on the making of Empire Records, we have one suggestion that would have all but guaranteed blockbuster status: put Tom Wopat in it.

Why Not Wopat?

In Empire Records, Joe Reaves is the titular record store’s manager, and a reluctant but loveable father figure for the younger members of the staff, who are mostly in their late teens or early twenties. Joe’s a gruff but genuinely cooler older dude, sporting a motorcycle jacket and an earring that, somehow, does not look ridiculous on a guy in his early forties.

Joe is nothing if not a working man.

Joe is nothing if not a working man.

Joe is portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, and while LaPaglia does a great job, Wopat would have been even better. Little to nothing about the film would actually have to be changed with Wopat in the role, so this will be a fairly easy Wopatization to write up, although likely boring to read. (Sorry.) The two actors are roughly the same age, and actually look quite a bit alike. Not even the cinematography would have to be altered.

Key Scenes

Key Scene #1

Midway through the film, Joe, fed up with the day’s unfortunate shenanigans, stalks through the store and back to his office. There, to blow off some steam, he sits down at a drum kit and pounds the skins along with AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”. Tom Wopat is a noted musician, but his axe of choice is the ol’ six string. Ergo, Joe’s stress relieving jam session would see him shredding on the guitar, matching Angus Young note for note. Maybe throw in a little bit of duck walk.

Key Scene #2

Later, the belligerent shoplifter known only as “Warren Beatty” fulfills his promise from earlier in the film: “I’ll be back, and you’ll be sorry!” Warren shows up with a gun—loaded with blanks, unbeknownst to Empire Records’ employees—and starts wreaking havoc. In the original film, Warren is “talked down” by Lucas, the wayward employee who set the events of the film in motion, and ultimately offered a job at the store by Joe.

In the Wopatized version, things go a little differently. Lucas distracts Warren with essentially the same speech he uses in the original, while Joe Wopat sneaks up on the duo, concealing himself behind the store’s copious retail display cases. As Lucas concludes his monologue, Joe Wopat bursts from his hiding place and delivers a Luke Duke-esque flying kick that knocks the pistol from Warren’s hand and sends the young punk tumbling to the floor. Joe, Lucas, and the rest of the Empire Records crew then proceed to kick the stuffing out of Warren, only stopping when the police arrive to haul the juvenile delinquent away.

Photo credit: Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis via Foter.com / CC BY

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